A challenge that science educators face is the need to create meaningful and relevant connections between their content and the scientific community. The task is neither new nor any more important than it was decades ago. In the past, teachers organized field trips or invited class speakers. While these approaches were engaging, they also took a great deal of planning and fiscal resources.
Today, the very technologies that connect scientists to each other are the same tools that classrooms can use to meet scientists in their “natural habitats” — the lab, the field or wherever their careers may take them.
While rich in their own right, these virtual interactions will be even more powerful if you give students opportunities to see how experts in the field apply what the students have been learning or doing in the classroom. It may be just the incentive your budding scientists need to pursue a career in one of the many fields you expose them to.
NASA’s Digital Learning Network. Engaging with scientists from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is now at your fingertips through these free and interactive webcasts and videoconferences that allow students of all ages to work hand in hand with NASA’s experts and educational specialists. Educators can find a list of upcoming events related to astronomy, physics, algebra and more on the website. Each event provides teachers with downloadable educator guides and tips on what students need to have on the day of the event.
The JASON Project. If your classroom adventures lead you into a world of nature exploration, then this project may be the right fit. You and your students can engage with hurricane or tornado researchers live from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Working side by side with leading experts from NASA, NOAA, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the National Geographic Society, educators can use the JASON curriculum to teach about weather, ecology and energy.
The New York Hall of Science. Students can explore selected exhibits, demonstrations and activities live from the hands-on science and technology center. Connecting students with the actual “explainers” from the museum allows them to see scientific principles happen. Teachers can get supporting materials and instructions on the site.
Mote Marine Laboratory. Perhaps aquatics and studies in marine biology have seemed out of reach for classroom connections, especially if you’re hours away from the nearest coastal region. The Mote Marine Laboratory offers countless resources in the fields of aquaculture, ecotoxicology, ocean life, fisheries and more. Although many of the web resources lack interaction with a live biologist, Mote does provide outreach programs for schools. One such program is SeaTrek, which features real scientists working in the field and live from the shark tank. Designed for students in all grade levels, the companion curricula covers sharks, sea turtles, reefs, sea life rescues, careers and more.
Center of Science and Industry (COSI). Videoconferencing allows educators to bring the scientific world into their classrooms. By connecting students to scientists, doctors and experts in the field, COSI allows students to see the real-life work of scientists. For example, students can have front-row seats during a live knee replacement operation. If anatomy is your specialty, how about allowing your students to watch an actual autopsy, narrated by an expert in forensic pathology? COSI brings the professionals in science, math, engineering and more to your classroom to discuss cutting-edge research and procedures.
Gemini Observatory. Using videoconferencing, experts report live from the observatory control room, sharing the process of scientific inquiry, human endeavors in science, global challenges, and the nature of scientific knowledge. Teachers can also visit the site to request a CD-ROM that allows students to observe procedures and activities that use real data.
Jared Mader is the director of educational technology for the Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 in New Oxford, Pennsylvania. Prior to that, he was a chemistry teacher and the director of technology for the Red Lion Area School District for 15 years.
Ben Smith, a former ISTE Board member, is a physics teacher and science department chair for Red Lion Area School District.